A parliamentary enquiry claims that there is “clear evidence of collusion” between beleaguered telecoms company Huawei and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), despite the company’s repeated denials.
A report put together by the House of Commons Defence Committee advocates that, in light of these assertions, Huawei should be ripped out of the UK’s telecoms network even earlier than the current 2027 deadline.
Huawei has denounced the report, saying that “it is built on opinion rather than fact”.
The report is clear about the geopolitical implications of 5G, recounting the committee’s concerns over the UK’s place in the Five Eyes intelligence sharing alliance during the debate over Huawei’s role in Britain’s network.
Australia and the US have also banned Huawei’s 5G technology, while New Zealand relies on a different infrastructure provider. Canada is still weighing a ban, yet the US is hopeful it will follow suit. A handful of other countries outside of the Five Eyes club have also banned Huawei, including Japan, France and India.
The report says that these countries haven’t produced technical detail in support of their decisions, meaning they are likely to have been motivated by geopolitical imperatives rather than security concerns.
The basis for the accusation of Huawei’s “collusion” with the CCP is a number of witness testimonies, none of whom are exactly CCP insiders. One is US Congressman Mike Turner who “took the view that in China there is no division between its commercial sector, its government sector and the Communist party”.
The report cites as evidence the fact that Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei is a member of the CCP and served in China’s People’s Liberation Army when he was younger. Both of these facts are already in the public realm and have been addressed by the company.
Other bits of evidence include Huawei’s ownership structure, with the report disputing the company’s claim to be a private company owned by its employees, and that Huawei has purportedly received government subsidies that have handed it a competitive advantage.
The report cites the opinion of the CEO of telecoms consultancy, Strand Consult, John Strand, and vice president at US communications technology company, Rivada Networks, Steven Conlon, that China’s National Intelligence Law (2017) “means that any Chinese citizen working for Huawei is obliged to engage in espionage on behalf of the Chinese Communist Party”.
This critique has been aimed at the company before. In an attempt to refute such claims, the company commissioned a lengthy legal opinion from Zhong Lun, a Chinese law firm, which it submitted to the US Federal Communications Commission in May 2018.
The Defence Committee report also cites claims from Christopher Balding, an associate professor at Fulbright University Vietnam and an associate fellow at the Henry Jackson Society (HJS), a right-wing, neoconservative think tank. In 2019, Balding published an analysis of 25,000 Huawei employee CVs that he claimed to have discovered on Chinese recruitment sites, in partnership with the HJS. A Telegraph article about the 2019 report says:
“According to the study, the employment files suggest that some Huawei staff have also worked as agents within China’s Ministry of State Security; worked on joint projects with the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA); were educated at China’s leading military academy; and had been employed with a military unit linked to a cyber attack on US corporations.”
In response to the study, Huawei said that, like most major technology companies, some of its staff had a background in government or the public sector.
The HSJ is a foreign policy think tank that advocates both military and non-military western interventionism, purportedly in the name of promoting human rights. It has been criticised by detractors, including its co-founder, for promoting Islamophobia. In 2017, the think tank was accused of being paid by the Japanese embassy to run an anti-China propaganda campaign (for a handsome monthly fee of £10,000).
Finally, the Defence Committee report references an accusation from Australia’s intelligence agencies in 2018 that Huawei helped the Chinese government infiltrate a foreign network to access information. Huawei categorically denied the allegation at the time, citing its “unblemished record” on cybersecurity.
The Defence Committee report concludes that all of this amounts to “clear evidence of collusion”, while somewhat ironically cautioning that “it is important that the West does not succumb to ill-informed anti-China hysteria”.
“The UK, and allies, should ensure that decisions taken around the involvement of Chinese companies are taken in an evidence-based manner, and only when risk is demonstrable should decisions around removal be made,” the report reads.
In the UK, GCHQ checks Huawei’s equipment and code for flaws and vulnerabilities at the Huawei Cyber Security Evaluation Centre (HCSEC). This is one of the reasons that the UK’s security agencies didn’t deem it necessary to bar Huawei from Britain’s 5G network entirely until the threat of US sanctions introduced uncertainty into the company’s future supply chains.
“In the end, the Government decision was taken because of the technical considerations resulting from sanctions; however the Government should have considered the potential damage to key alliances enough of a risk to begin to remove Huawei from the UK’s 5G network before the US sanctions were imposed,” the report reads.